Simple Special Education Tips to Prepare for a New School Year

Goodness, as a special education teacher, there are about 100 things to do every day. We need the summer to rest, relax, and prepare for the new school year. In this post, I’ll be sharing ten things that I try to do every summer in order to prepare for the next year. 

Reflect on Last Year

Be honest with yourself. What went well? What didn’t go well? What changes would you like to make for next year? As teachers, we should always be looking to grow, learn, and change. I try to reflect and determine a handful of strengths and a handful of weaknesses. 
As I’m writing this, it is the summer of 2020. Which means, I just wrapped up a spring season of eLearning. I had a lot of things that went well, and a few things I discovered as problems areas. Try to think of your reflection in two chunks–before eLearning and after eLearning. 

Find New Routines

From your reflection, you might discover that you need a few new routines. Maybe it is a before or after school routine to keep yourself organized or feeling like you are ahead of the game. It could be something you do during your prep to help save time. 
I also like to think about academic weaknesses in my students and find routines that we can do on a daily or weekly basis to help them improve. In this blog post, I have a few routines that I use in my small reading groups every day. 

Explore New Websites

As we enter into another year of digital learning, we might need to explore new websites. What will make digital learning easier? Once we are back to “normal”, what will make learning easier or more efficient? 
A few ideas that I’ve been exploring this summer are Google Classroom, Boom Learning, Zoom, Google Meet, and Seesaw. 

Brainstorm a Better Year

Imagine if you could have the perfect year. What would it look like? Would you be able to pull smaller groups? Push in to the general education classrooms more? Have a better intervention for reading? 
For me, I have been brainstorming what the perfect RTI system will look like. I’m not thinking about what my principal will think. I’m not thinking about what the grade level teachers will think or say. I’m just brainstorming. 
Now that I know what I want, I’m going to work backwards and start deciding how I can make that happen. What hurdles will I need to jump over to get the perfect system in place? 

Shop for Supplies

For me, this is the FUN part! I love school supply shopping. And as special education teachers, we often don’t have kids bringing in a backpack full of supplies. Here is a list of supplies that I like to be on the lookout for over the summer. 

Create an Amazon Wishlist

Do you always have a list of things that are little out of your price range? If you do, create an Amazon wishlist. You can easily share it to your social media so your friends and family members have the opportunity to help out. If your district allows, you can also share it with your students’ parents. 
I had a friend on Facebook post her Amazon wishlist. She had everything from $5-10 chapter books for her classroom library to more expensive items for flexible seating options. 

Learn from Others

I love to get ideas from others. Some of my favorite activities and routines have come from Facebook groups. If you are a special education teacher, I invite you to join The Resource Room Facebook Group. 
During the summer, you can also join book studies or other online professional development. I learned so much from my book study this summer. I can’t wait to implement some of the ideas I got both from the book and the other teachers. 

Review & Organize IEPs

Nothing feels better than getting organized and ready for an upcoming school year. Review IEPs and make notes of things that need to change, goals, and services. I like to keep my IEPs in a binder, so they can be referenced quickly and easily. 

Prepare for Progress Monitoring

Progress Monitoring can get away from me if I’m not prepared. I suggest taking some time to plan for progress monitoring. In this post, I share what I put in my progress monitoring tub to help me be ready for the school year!

Relax & Recharge

This is the MOST important tip! It is so easy to get sucked into all of the beautiful and genius ideas you see on Instagram, Pinterest, and in Facebook Groups. Take time to unplug and relax. I know I often have to remind myself that it’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to take a vacation or sit and read a book. It’s also ok to have an unproductive week where you barely get out of your pajamas and watch Netflix all day every day. Put yourself first, so you can be ready! 
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5 Quick & Easy Ideas to Motivate Your Students in Math

Image of 3 digits workbook with phone, math bingo sheet, and countdown card with text 5 Quick & Easy Math Ideas to Motivate your Students
In my small math groups, we are often doing HARD work. We do it repeatedly in order to make it easier. But doing 3-Digit computation over and over can be frustrating and easy to avoid for our students with disabilities. I’ve been working to find 5 quick and easy ideas to motivate my students in math by encouraging them to keep working hard and trying difficult tasks.
Math Intervention Workbook with Countdown/Token Board

Countdown or Token Board

I like to use a countdown or token board as a motivator to keep my students going. I add a number to the countdown board with each and every step of the problem. They can quickly earn rewards, such as a skittle, m&m, gummy bear, or goldfish. I like to use this for students who need behavior interventions or for students who are really struggling. It helps break up the tasks in small pieces. 
Math Intervention Workbook with Images of Assorted Candy

Candy

Speaking of candy, I like to give students candy to keep them motivated. Most kids will do anything for an m&m or two. If you are ok with giving your students candy, these are a few of my favorites. 
Math Intervention Workbook with Math Bingo and Pencil

Bingo

My kids LOVE any kind of bingo, and math bingo is no exceptions. I write the answers on the board ahead of time and have the students add the numbers to their bingo boards. 
We solve the problems and mark them off on our bingo boards to see if we get a BINGO! I usually let the winner get a prize from the prize box. 
Math Intervention Workbook with Hand Holding Post It Note with Number 5

Mystery Problem

Once my students are a little more proficient at solving problems, I like to help them transition to being more independent. I do this by picking a mystery problem. I write the number on a Post-It note before we get started. 
Once they finish all of the problems, I check to see who has the mystery problem correct. Whoever has the problem correct can get a sticker, pick a prize, or be the line leader. The choices for the reward are endless!
Math Intervention Workbook with Phone with Timer

Prize Box Problem

This is such a simple and easy way to get your students excited about computation! I have timers set to go off each and every day at 1:00 and 1:25. This is about 15 minutes into our group. When the timer goes off, our next problem becomes our Prize Box Problem! 
This also helps ensure that we have time to complete the right hand side of our page. These computation problems can take a LONG time, especially if we are just learning the skill. It is a great way to motivate them to try something independently instead of relying on the rest of the group for answers. 

These 5 quick and easy ideas to motivate your students in math will help make your small groups run more efficiently and motivate your students to do their best! I mean who wouldn’t want that?!
Freebie 2-Digit and 3-Digit Math Intervention Worksheets with Pencils text Free Download from The Primary Gal
Would you like a free week of my 2-Digit and 3-Digit math interventions? They have saved me so much time and provided consistent intervention for my students. Plus, I’ve seen amazing growth in my students. Click here or the image above to grab the free week. 
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How to Make a Progress Monitoring Tub

Progress monitoring is a necessary part of being a Special Education Teacher. It is important to student growth, but it shouldn’t take a lot of time. For me, I save time by creating a progress monitoring tub full of all of the essentials for assessing my students. 

Progress Monitoring Storage

Let’s first start with the container. As teachers, we LOVE containers, tubs, and all things cute storage. I love this ice cube chest from Amazon. It is large enough to hold file folders, but it is still small enough to carry around easily. 

Progress Monitoring for Specific Skills

I have various lists and rings filled with all of the things that I would commonly assess my students on. These might be lists of letters, numbers, decodable words, or sight words. They are easy to pull out and quickly assess a student’s progress. 
I also have quick counting, math fact, and math computation assessments. 

Nonsense Words

I have several kids who are excellent at memorization. I use nonsense words to assess them on their abiity to decode words that follow typical spelling patterns. I have these on word rings, as well as printed lists, just like real words. 

Informal Assessments

I keep a clipboard with all of my informal assessments. I use these to assess move-in students and students being evaluated. It help me get a quick snapshot of their strengths and weaknesses. 
You can click here to find these informal assessments on TpT

Writing Utensils

I always try to keep a handful of pencils and my favorite pen in my progress monitoring tub. Typically, if I’m assessing something, it is in the hallway during my prep. I need to have everything that we will need to make that assessment faster. They’ll need a pencil to solve math problems and complete a spelling test, depending on the tests that I need to give them. 

Sticks or Other Rewards

Depending on the student and the assessments you give, assessing them could be tough. I like to keep stickers or other motivational rewards handy. You never know when you might need them in order to bribe a student to get the results you need. 
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Special Education: What To Do in 30 Minute Groups

As a special education teacher, there are literally NEVER enough minutes in the school day. I do my best to make the most of the precious minutes that I have with my students, even if it’s only for 30 minutes! 

For my reading groups, I typically have thirty minutes on my daily schedule. With transition time, I don’t always have a full thirty minutes. I split my time between spelling and reading. In the images and descriptions below, you’ll find a breakdown of the amount of time I spend each day on each area. 

I introduce a new phoneme or phonemes to my students. That will be a focus for the entire week. Depending on the level of my students, we have 5 or 10 spelling words. Some of my kids could probably handle larger lists, but I have found that adds to the amount of time focusing on spelling rather than reading. 

For reading, I utilize my reading intervention to help my students cover a write array of reading skills in a short period of time. We also have words in our daily passages that review the new phoneme and review old phonemes. 

On Tuesday, we use our letter tiles to spell our spelling words. I utilize my dry erase board to help my students fill in missing letters, stretch the words together, and provide a visual to organize the sounds as they hear them. 
Using Day 2 of our weekly reading book, we practice the same phoneme, review high frequency words, read together orally, and work to better understand what we are reading. 
On Wednesday, we take a practice test. I usually let my students use dry erase boards or Boogie Boards. It is a fun way to help them gauge their progress with the new phoneme. It also gives me a chance to see how they are doing. 
In reading, we grab our leveled readers and work through our daily routine! They love to do fluency checks on Wednesdays. It is a fun way for them to measure their own progress. 
We take our spelling test on Thursday. For a while, I was trying to do a spelling test on the same day as our reading and math tests. It just became too overwhelming for the kids…and ME! We were pushed for time, and I felt like I was constantly rushing them. I like that I can slow down and dedicate a fair amount of time to our spelling test. 
After spelling, we switch to our reading books and continue reading. My students are able to check their fluency, review both past and current phonemes, and write a sentence that I dictate to them. 
Friday is NOT my favorite day of the week, guys! I feel like all I get done is test, test, test. I pull my students a little differently on Fridays. Instead of pulling ability based groups, I usually pull them based on their homeroom on Friday. I helps if teachers in the same grade level aren’t on the same reading story or math lesson. Most of the time time they are, but there are always weeks where we are thrown off. 
Did you notice that I referred to that leveled reader several times? Well, they’ve been a lifesaver for me. It helps me ensure that I’m doing all that I can for my students. It also saves me time when it comes to planning each week. 
If you want to give it a shot, I have a free week! You can download it by clicking here. 
If you’ve already gotten the free week, you might be wondering where you can get MORE! If you’d like to check them out, click here to see them on TpT. 
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5 Professional Development Books for Special Education

I love to read. I’m also a total nerd when it comes to professional development and learning new things. I literally have bookshelves full of books. Some I’ve read. Others are on my “To Be Read” list. 

I feel like there is always something to learn in special education: a new strategy, developing research, a mindset shift. We can never learn or know enough. I hope that you will take a minute to browse these books and see if any of these areas are a good fit for you to read this summer. 

Pre-Referral Intervention Manual

This book is literally in every single school that I’ve ever worked in. That’s how important it is. I have also rarely seen it utilized to it’s fullest potential. In this book, you’ll find THOUSANDS of researched based strategies for so many learning and behavioral difficulties. 
When you are asked what researched based strategies you are using for your students or students in the referral process, this is your go to. What I love most, you are already doing so many researched based strategies without even knowing it. This book is extremely valuable and easy to use! 

Phonological Awareness Assessment Tools & Strategies

If you read ANYTHING about Dyslexia, you’ll quickly realize the important of phonological awareness. For me, I was asking myself what I could do to help my kids improve in this area. 
I received this book when I attended an Orton-Gillingham training last year. The activities inside are GOLD. They are simple, easy, and fun for the students to do. In many cases, they don’t require any materials OR they can be done with things you already have around your home or classroom. It also breaks down strategies for things that you would do in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3. 

The Complete Learning Disabilities Handbook

I’ll be honest. This one isn’t a fun read. This was actually a book that I had to buy when I was working on my masters. It is big and really thing, but it is LOADED with strategies for you to use with your students. When I am working on a new product line or struggling with a student who isn’t making progress, I reference this book. 

Take Control of Dyslexia & Other Reading Difficulties

I LOVE this book. It is actually designed for students and adults with dyslexia to read themselves. However, I don’t believe that it’s just for people WITH dyslexia. I think it’s also for people who will be HELPING people with dyslexia grow and learn. 
In this book, it discusses strategies for becoming a better reader, as well as explaining what dyslexia is and how we need to get to know our own learning style. It is a quick, easy read that is very helpful for teachers and parents. I plan to keep a few copies of this on my bookshelf at school to loan to general education teachers and parents. 

Differentiation and the Brain

This book is very heavy, like in research not weight! It dives deep into the neuroscience behind differentiation to allow us to help our students. It is a unique book that offers a great understanding of WHY we need to differentiate for our students and HOW we can make that happen. 
Special education teachers, I have something just for YOU! I have a free week of reading intervention that helps me tackle all sorts of challenging areas for my students. You can download it by clicking this link or the image above. 
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